In the second of our series on the two presidential candidates and the arts, New York-based novelist and writer Scott Rose presents a fairly roseate view of the Obama effect. Here‘s a previous Obama piece by Nicholas Alexander Brown. And here’s what Romney’s gonna do.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA AND THE ARTS
By Scott Rose
Two of the most widely reviewed vocal performances of 2012 to date were performed by a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
A video of President Obama singing a phrase from Al Green’s classic Let’s Stay Together went viral in January, within a week stimulating 16,000 digital download sales of Reverend Green performing the song. Cynics carped, yet the momentousness of the country’s first leader of color singing at The Apollo Theater was almost easy to miss because of the infectious, smiling insouciance in his act.
We previously knew that Obama appreciates the arts – he and Michelle went to the Art Institute of Chicago on their first date – but it was a revelation to the public that the president can be charming when he sings. In February, during the Red, White and Blues event in the East Room of the White House, Mick Jagger handed Barack a microphone, then the president and B.B. King traded phrases of Sweet Home Chicago. The concert aired on PBS.
Did that performance by an African-American Democrat provoke Republicans into fire-breathing attacks against the Public Broadcast System?
Not necessarily, as Republicans never had wanted to hear PBS when taking their Kool-Aid – um, excuse me – their tea. The roadblocks that Obama would encounter in trying to fulfill his ambitious visions for the arts in America perhaps are seen symbolized in the fate of the New York City Opera after David H. Koch gave $100 million for renovation of the New York State Theater, kicking the company out for a season and then not coughing up a penny for it as it staggered under the devastating weight of the neo-cons’ deregulated credit default swap masterpiece.
In 2008, candidate Obama had a National Arts Policy Committee, with a Platform in Support of the Arts. You will find no such thing associated with the Romney campaign, even if you look for it off-shore. To comprehend what is at stake for the arts in the November election, we must consider that Romney is promising massive increases in military spending while, illogically, balancing the budget by lowering taxes and getting rid of the subsidies for PBS, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I am in an ineffably artistic, trembling rage as I type this.
The 2008 arts platform described grand plans for reinvesting in arts education. Reading through the website of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (www.pcah.gov), you might learn about many laudable, if under-the-radar events. The recently-launched Turnaround Arts Initiative, for instance, is a pilot program to boost overall achievement in underserved schools by enhancing their arts education; studies consistently show that arts in the schools correlate with higher academic accomplishment.
The pilot program is only being implemented in a few school districts; disappointed arts advocates express dismay, but how was the president to get a larger program funded, given all the obstreperously obstructionist, overstuffed Babbitts in Congress?
Society clearly has no need for Mitt’s planned “creative destruction” of the arts, but I am too humble to instruct people how to vote, so shall end with this quote from Plato: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”